Updated: May 26
Waking up in Moscow, I couldn't wait to get started with the day and make my way to the iconic Red Square. An absolute gem of co-worker of mine (who happens to be from Russia) put me in touch with a local, a college friend of her's called Yana. I had arranged to meet Yana in front of St.Basil's Cathedral around 1:30 which gave me plenty of time to find a good breakfast spot.
That same lovely co-worker of mine had recommended Cafe Dr.Zhivago so that's where I headed. The cafe is right across from the Kremlin and the entrance to the Red Square, and has a retro Soviet feel to it. There is a Soviet style soda machine in the waiting area that dispenses free neon soda! I got grape, my favourite. The menu was pretty meat heavy (this is Russia after all) but there were some nice veggie options. I ordered cherry dumplings (vareniki), rye pancakes with honey, and a fancy hot chocolate that was advertised as "Coffee in Soviet Style".
After making it through the Red Square's somewhat daunting security checkpoint, I met Yana right in front of St. Basil's technicolor cathedral. It was surreal to see something so iconic up close! It really looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. We exchanged pleasantries and then made our way to Bunker 47 - Stalin's Cold War Bunker. Taking the scenic route, Yana and I stopped at a children's shopping mall right across from the former KGB headquarters with a great view of the city from the top floor. You had to pay 10 rubles to go to the top, but it was worth it!
When we arrived at Bunker 47 we took the stairs deep into the ground. The bunker is in line with some of the metro lines so we could occasionally hear them whirring past. The bunker was full of Soviet Memorabilia and included a life size wax figure of the big man himself. They asked for volunteers to run through a real life "Nuking" simulation, which we were strangely told not to photograph or film. When we finished the tour, we were brought to an underground Soviet Style bar where we ordered two vodkas. They had an old school Soviet film playing on the wall and after about 30 minutes the waitress started performing on stage. It was pure kitsch but I was loving it. After we climbed what felt like 1000 flights of stairs back to the top, we headed towards a Georgian restaurant for dinner at Yana's recommendation.
We finished up the day at Strelka Bar located right across from the gorgeous Cathedral of Christ the Savior. On our way to Strelka Bar, we passed by a memorial for Boris Nemtsov, a politician opposed to Vladimir Putin's government and the war with Ukraine. He was assassinated on February 27th, 2015. I remember watching an episode of Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain interviews Boris. He came across as a kind and just person who wanted better for his country. At the end of the episode they reveal he was assassinated after filming, so it was a sobering experience to visit the spot where it had actually happened.
Yana and I ordered two Moscow Mules and clinked them together; celebrating a wonderful day in Russia's capital city. Yana mentioned we were in the perfect spot to highlight Moscow's contrasting sides; young and old, modern and traditional. "We drink and party tonight on this side of the bridge, tomorrow we cross to the Church and pray for our sins."
For more on my time in Moscow, please check out my post Must See Moscow.